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BELLAGIO, Italy – A Muslim Brotherhood leader wins election as president of Egypt. Sectarian conflicts roil nations such as Nigeria, Iraq and India. European countries attempt to legislate the assimilation of religious minorities.
Issues of faith in public life dominate world news, yet religion is often misunderstood or ignored in journalistic coverage.
Now the world’s first international body of religion journalists provides editors, reporters and analysts with the tools, resources and support to promote accurate, fair and balanced reporting on religion worldwide.
The International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) was founded by leading journalists from 23 countries in six continents at a meeting at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy. Nearly 400 journalists from more than 90 nations have been accepted into the new organization.
This week, the IARJ launched its new website at www.theiarj.org, offering original articles sharing best practices in religion coverage and special access to the most up-to-date research on religion throughout the world.
What sets this organization apart is its commitment to being an international body that can transcend national and regional biases, said Maria-Paz Lopez, chair of the Steering Committee.
“Religion plays a very important role in the daily life of billions of people around the world, and we are a community of professionals who care enough about that to want to portray their beliefs and practices – and their conflicts – with accuracy, fairness, and balance,” said Lopez, the senior religion writer at La Vanguardia in Barcelona, Spain.
A global voice
Global religion journalism comes with great responsibility. Reporting that increases understanding can reduce discrimination and promote civility, while inaccurate and irresponsible journalism can contribute to persecution and even inflame conflicts responsible for the suffering of millions.
To help navigate this complex topic, journalists on deadline can go to the IARJ website to find the most relevant data on the role of religion in nearly every nation.
The website features reliable statistics on believers and public attitudes, national legislation on issues related to religion, background on religious and ethnic conflicts and information on scores of religious traditions.
A corresponding IARJ website in Arabic will be announced soon, marking another historic achievement. In the future, the IARJ plans to offer websites in more languages.
The commitment to international collegiality begins with the IARJ’s mission statement:
“The International Association of Religion Journalists is a global network of journalists promoting excellence in the coverage of religion and spirituality. It provides services and resources to strengthen and support the work of its members. It engages media leaders, educational institutions and communities on the importance of accurate, balanced, and ethical religion coverage to foster understanding.”
The seven-member Steering Committee includes journalists from Africa, Asia, Australia, Latin America, North America and Europe. Apart from the chair, the committee members are:
Rachael Kohn of Australia (vice chair), producer and presenter of The Spirit of Things on ABC Radio National
Hani Hazaimeh of Jordan (treasurer), a senior reporter at The Jordan Times
Endy Bayuni of Indonesia, senior editor of The Jakarta Post
Pedro Brieger of Argentina, an award-winning journalist, sociologist and author
Yazeed Kamaldien of South Africa, freelance writer and photographer
Douglas Todd of Canada, spirituality and ethics writer for The Vancouver Sun.
David Briggs, a former religion writer for The Associated Press with more than 25 years experience in national and international religion journalism, was appointed executive director.
In preparing for the new association, Briggs met with hundreds of journalists from more than 90 nations to listen to their needs and to learn their ideas about how to serve global writers and editors covering religion.
“What emerged from those conversations was an overwhelming consensus for the need for an international association sharing global resources for religion coverage, including the indispensable insights each of us can offer from our professional experience in our own countries,” said Briggs. “The IARJ is a true global effort where journalists can learn from one another in a forum of mutual respect and understanding.”
The IARJ partners with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), two of the world’s leading organizations promoting quality journalism worldwide and unparalleled access to the best international research on religion.
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